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Seven ways to upsize to a bigger workspace successfully

Upsizing to a new premise can be a daunting thought, especially if you have hundreds of staff to consider. Head of people and capability at AA Insurance Nikki Howell shares her learnings from moving buildings to accomodate for their growth. 

Happiness in the workspace comes down to basics. We are attracted to light, airy spaces. We love a bit of colour and personality, not boring beige on four bare walls. We find it restricting working in silos. We need to bump into people in the lunchroom or the tea area for a bit of social relief.

AA Insurance has steadily grown since opening its doors over 20 years ago, which meant the building we’d lived in for all that time had become a bit tight around the seams, and we were about to pop a button or three. It was time to move on. We needed space to grow, to move about in without falling over each other, something with more colour and personality.

When a business grows, at some point it will need to upsize into a new premise. This can be a daunting thought, especially if like us you have over 500 people to consider.

Moving to a new space gives you the opportunity to look at what’s working, what isn’t and what you may need in the future. After experiencing our new well-designed space in Sale St since February, I can honestly say there have been some major benefits of taking the time to work it out properly.

We previously occupied six floors spread throughout a 17-storey building, each floor an L shape that meant it was easy to forget about certain teams – out of sight, out of mind. We’re now housed on three levels, in a rectangle with interconnecting stairs in the centre of each floor, and plenty of glass walls so we can’t help but see each other. In fact, I’ve lost count of how many people have told me they’ve bumped into such-and-such after not seeing them for months, even years.

Whether it’s a new build, or a redesigned environment, here are seven things we’ve learnt about upsizing your workspace:

Make a list of must-haves and a list of nice-to-haves. You may not achieve everything on the second list, but the first list will help with the necessities of what your team really needs to function.

Consider the layout of the interior — are people shut away in offices or tucked away in physical silos? Or can they collegially, share knowledge and increase their productivity just by having a line of sight between people or a common lunchroom?

We discovered that natural light, large windows, sit-to-stand desks and cordless headsets all improved the mental and physical health and happiness of our staff. You don’t have to try all the latest whizz bang options, but it’s amazing how much better we feel, and more productive we are, when we’re looked after by creative ergonomic design.

It can be overwhelming trying to include everyone in the new project, so start with your managers and team leaders. They can talk to their teams and feedback the common threads. An advocate or ambassador per area can mean a two-way stream of information and collaboration.

Ask people for their input. Not everyone could be involved in the big decisions for AA Insurance House, but we wanted to provide as many opportunities as we could for the smaller ones. For example, we asked our people what they wanted to name the meeting rooms and floors.

A dedicated site on our intranet allowed our people to ask questions and have them answered.  We took them on the journey with us through regular updates and videos — we even set up a room with floor plans, swatches and concept work, so they could literally see and touch aspects of the new workspace.

 We also considered our environmental footprint. Ours is a green building, which means we’re dedicated to managing our resources and the waste we produce. Motion sensor lighting, recycling, environmentally friendly cleaning products and Keep Cups for every staff member are just some of the initiatives that help make our footprint a little smaller.

We’re already seeing the benefits of these changes. Our team are happier, healthier and more productive and engaged in their work. There’s a revived sense of professionalism that’s stemmed from the pride we feel in a place that’s our own, which has reinforced our identity as a company – and that can only be good for our business and customers.

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